Doesn’t look much does it but in my opinion this is one of the best of all soups. This is in fact vichyssoise though we ate a serving hot.

I bought a couple of leeks with the intention of making a leek and potato soup for Friday, one of our ‘meatless days’. Although no recipe is necessary – there could hardly be a simpler soup to make – I had intended to follow (roughly) Delia Smith’s recipe, my go-to cook for unpretentious but superb food of all kinds. For one reason and another I didn’t make the soup on Friday so went for an authentic vichyssoise and as far as I am concerned that means a recipe from a Frenchman or, as it turned out, from a Frenchwoman.

The only major difference between the soup and the vichyssoise is that the first is with a vegetable stock, generally served hot, the second with chicken stock and served cold. I made four generous servings. We had a small serving hot, the rest we’ll have later cold, ie vichyssoise (it will keep fine in the freezer).

Sadly Stéphane seems to have stopped posting on his blog, ‘My French Heaven‘, his most recent post being in June last year where he gave his grandmother’s recipe for vichyssoise, which is good enough for me. I say sadly because this was one of the best food blogs (and much more) around. Nevertheless, although posts seem to have stopped all the old ones seem still to be there. I love his ‘About’ – that alone is worth a read, but here’s his (or grandma’s) vichyssoise with the story behind it.

https://myfrenchheaven.com/2017/06/22/a-special-vichyssoise-for-my-muses/

This is truly delicious.

If you want the vegetarian version I’d recommend Delia Smith’s recipe (don’t be misled by the added complication from ‘celebrities’ like Jamie Oliver – rubbish). Here’s Delia’s:

https://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/collections/root-vegetables/leek-onion-and-potato-soup

It’s worth adding that leeks are a wonderful, often overlooked vegetable. This was brought home to me just a couple of days ago when I made a mushroom omelette following a recipe from Latvia which added some leek. I’d never have thought of using them in a mushroom omelette but I’m sure that it was this ingredient which lifted this omelette from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here’s the recipe:

https://latvianmom.com/2018/02/01/mushroom-omelette/

 

 

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‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

I said in my Christmas post that after years of striving to cook classic French dishes (from before the days of nouvelle cuisine) I was tending more and more towards simplicity, to the point of buying some elements of Christmas dinner from Marks and Spencer (branded as M&S now – stupid and probably why they have ‘lost the plot’ in all departments except food! I have always bought my wife a ‘little’ Christmas present from a particular department there, but if for 2016 Christmas it was difficult to find something, last year there was nothing at all appealing).

Back to food; I’ve said before on this blog that I rarely follow recipe’s exactly now, using them as a starting point for ‘doing my own thing’. I do intend to return to an ‘exotic’ – though still simple – starter next Christmas, prawns flambeed in Ricard, learned from the blog ‘My French Heaven’. Unfortunately, as it was one of my favourite blogs, there have been no posts on that since it was back, after a long break, in June last year which explained the absence and gave a recipe for a soup I like a lot in the summer; also simple, it’s ‘cheap as chips’ to make: vichyssoise

Part of the move to ‘simplicity’ in the kitchen has been prompted by a blogger friend discovered early last year who often posts a recipe for Latvian style food which, as she has said, is usually simple compared with, eg, French or Romanian but tasty nevertheless. The final link to a ‘simple’ recipe, for a ‘cake’, below is one of hers. As I had never made anything like it before I did follow her recipe, before making two variations with half the mix.

Something I have not made for a long time, simple yet really tasty, is a soup which, searching for it, I was surprised to find I had never posted a recipe. So here it is:

Tomato and cinnamon soup

Ingredients (for 2 starter servings – double, triple, etc everything for more)

Tomato and cinnamon soup

A can of tomatoes (or use fresh)
A small onion
A few cloves of garlic (to taste)
1 tspn of cinnamon (or more, again to taste)
A dollop of tomato puree
A preserved vegetable/herb mix – dried, bottled or a vegetable stock cube
Extra basil – dried or if fresh also for ‘decorating’.

Chuck everything into a pan (with some water, more if using fresh tomatoes), cook a little (15mins with canned tomatoes, maybe 30 with fresh), liquidise, taste and if you like more cinnamon put it in and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If a bit sour for your taste add one or two teaspoons of unrefined sugar. Reheat and serve with sour cream (or ‘sweet’ cream if you prefer). A variation: if you have a sweet red pepper looking alone cut that up and add to the tomatoes when cooking.

Cacio e pepe

? e pepe

The second ‘simple’ recipe comes from Corrie, another blogger I often go to for a ‘different’ veggie recipe (we eat ‘meatless’ twice a week though we are not vegetarian). In fact she suggested a variation on a celebrated Italian recipe, associated with Rome, ‘Cacio e pepe’ – Cheese and pepper. The year before last this dish became the ‘in thing’ (just as daft as the craze for Prosecco now being overtaken by fancy – ie expensive – gin).  Corrie’s variation adds cherry tomatoes – I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that as in general I don’t like cooked tomatoes (I know, that’s weird having in mind the recipe above, but nevertheless true). Bought tomatoes in UK are a disaster anyway, usually tasteless or worse, but there is one cherry variety which is acceptable – Piccolo – so I did not follow Corrie’s recipe but after taking the pasta out of the water in which I cooked the pasta I dropped the halved tomatoes in the water and cooked for a few minutes.

Both the authentic ‘Cacio e pepe’ and Corrie’s version are very simple – on the face of it. In fact it is, like spaghetti carbonara, not so simple to make the renowned dish well. It takes practice. However, even if not perfect it always tastes good. Important, stir the pasta occasionally while boiling so it does not clump together; have the cheese at room temperature and grate as finely as possible. I followed something between the authentic Italian method and Corrie’s. You’ll find Corrie’s recipe here:

https://corriesrabbitfood.com/2018/01/15/cacio-e-pepe-with-cherry-tomatoes/

Dulce de leche cake – no cooking

Four varieties of ‘dulce de leche’

Finally, I wanted to make a ‘surprise’ cake for my wife and took up a suggestion from my Latvian blogger friend Ilze. Very simple, ‘Dulce de leche’ cake is made of condensed milk simmered sealed in the can for 2-3 hours, butter and crushed biscuits. In Latvia they use Selga biscuits but Rich Tea are an excellent substitute here.

I made only a quarter of Ilze’s recipe (half a 397g can of Carnation condensed milk, everything else in proportion). I wasn’t certain my wife would like the taste of the original, which might be too ‘caramel’ for her, so I divided my mix into two and added a good slug of rum to one half. I then added powdered cocoa to half of that (don’t know how much – till I liked the colour!). The other half I also divided into two, adding poppy seeds to one part and grating chilli chocolate on the top of the other. Of course, it’s simpler just to make one and in the future I’ll make the one preferred – with cocoa and rum. The cocoa powder, being bitter, cuts the sweetness. The one with just rum tastes less sweet cold from the fridge.

You can make the cake(s) into any shape you like by forming with your hands. My guess is that children would love making this cake.

You’ll find Ilze’s recipe here:

Dulce de leche cake 

Notes:

The Carnation can has a warning not to boil in the can. Don’t worry, just make sure the can is well covered with water, adjust heat to be only just simmering and put a lid on it.

There was a good article about the ‘Cacio e pepe’ craze, with good advice for cooking it, in the Guardian the year before last. You’ll find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2016/nov/03/how-to-make-the-perfect-cacio-e-pepe

It’s a while since I wrote anything about food so, having used some recipes picked up from bloggers I follow, the Chef Mimi Blog, My French Heaven and Rabbit Food, as a basis for some meals, and really enjoyed them, it seemed an ideal time to return to one of my favourite themes. But before that …

Tea

I should have a ‘grump’ about the marketing of Yorkshire tea. When I was unwell last year I completely ‘went off’ the 1/2 litre of very, very strong coffee (very sweet) I previously thought indispensable to get going in the morning, so began to drink tea (no sugar) first thing (about 6.00). At this time I also changed from ‘normal’ Yorkshire tea to ‘Gold’ Yorkshire tea (a bit stronger) but, although the shops were stuffed with teabags of the stuff, finding loose leaf tea proved very difficult. Then Taylors of Harrogate, which markets the brand, began a big push, joining up with Classic FM radio, sponsoring concerts, etc, but it was still difficult to find packets of loose leaf ‘Gold’. I wrote to Taylors pointing out that this was a cardinal marketing sin. Customer service were very helpful but that’s not the point. I have now found that the biggest Tesco supermarkets keep it though often there are only a couple of packets, if any, on the shelf. Today I found eight; I bought the lot!

Some like it hot – especially French chickens

I’m grateful to Chef Mimi as although in the past I followed My French Heaven closely I missed the ‘My Tangy Green Chicken’ in February last year. I’ve been roasting chickens for 60 years or more but I learned something surprising – to roast the chicken at 480degF ! Funny to find a chef in France using Fahrenheit (I know); we don’t even use it now in the UK – near as dammit 250degC. I suppose I could have used this temperature, unknowingly, when I was cooking on an old coal-fired range some 50 to 60 years ago (my grandmother used butter-tub slats, so wood soaked with butter, thrown out by the local coop, to get a high temperature; the oven bottom was red!) I don’t think my modern oven reaches quite 250; I shoved it on max and that’s what I’ll use in future.

Having found a free-range corn-fed chicken and all the other ingredients for Stephane’s (My French Heaven) recipe I followed his Tangy Green Chicken recipe. Wonderful. I did use olive oil, not the canola oil he stipulates, but other than that followed his recipe faithfully. Not surprisingly many queried his stipulated temperature but he was adamant. Rightly so , the result is wonderful. Chef Mimi made some changes for her ‘Roast chicken with olives‘, partly because all the ingredients seemed not to be readily available in her part of the USA, but I’m sure that her version is delicious too.

Rabbit Food

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I eat ‘veggie’ twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, so it’s always good to find something different without meat. Corrie-Louise will also give you a laugh on her Rabbit Food blog. Her recipe for ‘My Mum’s Red Pepper Lasagne‘ looked interesting but finding that it had no white sauce (I always make bechamel), to me one of the best bits, I decided to make just the pepper and tomato ragout from her recipe and serve it with a less work-intensive pasta, or rather two: whole wheat spaghetti and the little twirled ‘trofie’. Her recipe uses fresh tomatoes but I used tinned – less work – and rather then cheddar I put a good helping of Parmesan on top. Very tasty! (No idea what quinoa is).

 

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Venison last year for Christmas dinner so I wondered what I could do for something different this year. I settled on wild boar from Ballinwillin House Farm in County Cork, Ireland. It arrived today, just as requested, brought by DHL (and what an excellent tracking system they have!). There are only two of us so I ordered a four bone rack; it looks great. I especially like the look of that black-speckled skin over the substantial layer of white fat. (I also ordered some belly and both wild boar and venison sausages, so bringing the total cost up to the level meriting free delivery). I will, of course, let you know how it tastes on the day.

A case of stouts and porters (more…)

First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve

Practice

35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.

Yesterday I went into the city of Leeds to do a bit of Christmas shopping, but high on my list was a visit to the market and the excellent fish stalls there (they have survived, probably thanks to the Afro-Carribean community which makes the city such a vibrant place). I was after the basis for the first course of my planned Christmas dinner. Unfortunately the rest of the market no longer compares with those in France so this was all I was seeking there.

If you saw my post of a couple of days ago when I outlined the planned menu, you’ll realise there will be quite a lot of work there. When I detail it you could well find there’s even more work than you thought, as I’m going back to classic French cuisine methods and no short cuts (the sauce will take a few hours to make).

For this reason I wanted a first course that was quick and which would provide a massive taste change to the next course. I didn’t want anything cold, but if possible a bit of a Christmas ‘spectacular’. Then I remembered a recent post on My French Heaven which seemed to be just what I was after.

Picture of a plate of raw prawns

I guess for many people they don’t look so appetising like this. To see them in their Christmas colours, which they will assume when cooked, follow the link below to the recipe

I won’t repeat the recipe – just pop over to My French Heaven by following this link: Crevettes au Ricard. Don’t be put off if you don’t read French; Stephane, the author, repeats all his recipes in English.

In fact I couldn’t find Ricard so it will be Pernod. Nor could I find Espelette pepper so I’ll probably use dash of Tabasco, which is about the same ‘hotness’.

So, it’s quick; apart from a few minutes to make the marinade a day before, it’s just five or six minutes on the griddle. It should be ‘spectacular’, as any flambe is. I’ve never flambe’d with Pernod or Ricard before so it’ll also be interesting. In fact I’ve never eaten anything flambe’d in an anis liquor before, but I trust Stephane.

More about the main course later.

I’m about half way in drafting the promised post on my disappointment with what Britain has become – basically since Tony Blair became prominent on the scene (until which time I was a life-long Labour supporter). I guess it’s going to get me into quite a bit of trouble with many people, but perhaps not as it’s likely not that many people will read it.

I’m prompted to find time to complete it by many recent events, among which:

  • being told I could not take photographs of my teenage nephew playing football;
  • my subsequent weekend in Germany where I freely took pictures in a children’s playground full of children and their parents without complaint (I have put just one, of my grandson on my classic camera/film ‘photo’ blog – grumpytykepix);
  • children taken away from foster parents because they were members of UKIP (I am not, by the way, a UKIP supporter in general);
  • looking through a recent GCSE maths paper and finding I could do the first five questions in my head in less than a minute (I haven’t ‘done’ maths for over 50 years);
  • Bradford metropolitan council’s insistence on allowing hundreds of new houses to be built in an area which simply cannot support them (in fact almost anything Bradford Council has done in the past two decades);
  • the appalling treatment of elderly people in the NHS;
  • the increasing ‘regulation by tick box’ in vital areas like care and education;
  • the appalling fall in journalistic standards, in general but particularly at the BBC (and the schoolboy antics introduced into many otherwise interesting and ‘serious’ programmes);
  • … there are a few more.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll succeed to do a post or two on more enjoyable things, like food and cooking – especially as I’m really keen to try a couple of recipes (onion soup and a chocolate cake) on one of my favourite ‘cookery’ blogs (actually more than that), ‘My French Heaven’.